Posts Tagged ‘Rail Passengers Association’

Another Glimpse Into the World of Richard Anderson

November 21, 2019

A Bloomberg News reporter has given another glimpse into the worldview of Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson.

It’s a small examination yet a revealing one.

Anderson is not a sentimental man. For him everything is about business.

OK, so you probably already knew that, right?

Still, consider this comment from Anderson in response to a question about how his father, who worked for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, used to take the family on train trips to Chicago and Los Angeles.

“I didn’t come away with some huge love for trains, just like I don’t have some huge love for airplanes,” Anderson said. “They’re machines that you build a business around.”

Just machines? If you think about it that’s the response you might expect from a chief executive officer who spends his day looking at financial reports and making financial decisions.

It’s just that his predecessor as Amtrak president, Charles “Wick” Moorman, did have a passion for trains and that’s something that makes railroad enthusiasts feel better.

The Bloomberg portrait of Anderson doesn’t contain much more of his thinking that hasn’t been reported in other articles or he hasn’t said during occasional speeches and congressional testimony.

My key takeaway from the article was a better understanding of how Anderson got to be president and CEO of Amtrak and why.

I’ve long argued Anderson is not a rogue operator or a Trojan Horse who has surprised those who hired him.

Anderson may get most of the criticism but one of the lesser discussed elements of the many changes that have been made at Amtrak in the past two years is that Anderson was hired by a board of directors who would have spent considerable time with him before offering him the job.

They would have asked questions about his vision for Amtrak and his philosophy about transportation generally.

They knew what they were getting: A former airline CEO, yes, but also a former prosecutor.

Leonard described Anderson as having the cerebral demeanor of a senior college professor.

The reporter quoted a former boss, Texas prosecutor Bert Graham, as saying Anderson was one of his office’s best trial lawyers. “He had a way of seeing through bullshit,” Graham said.

Amtrak board members might have thought Anderson’s no nonsense approach was exactly what the passenger carrier needed.

He had the personality to do what previous Amtrak presidents had been unable or unwilling to do.

In that sense, the Amtrak board might have been like the parent of a spoiled child who hopes a teacher will do what the parent failed to do in imposing discipline.

Jim Mathews, president of the Rail Passengers Association, indirectly touched on that point when he observed that Anderson was hired to operate Amtrak like a profit-making company such as Delta Air Lines, where Anderson served as CEO between 2007 and 2016.

“He looked everybody in the eye and said, ‘OK, are you guys ready for this? We’re going to break some stuff.’ And everyone said, ‘Yes, this is what we want.’ And then he started breaking stuff. And people were like, ‘Wait, hold up. Stop! What?’ ”

And that is the crux of why Anderson is so unpopular with many passenger train advocates. He broke too many of their favorite dishes and was unapolegetic about it. He didn’t even pretend to regret it.

Anderson knows that, telling Leonard, “Most of the critics are the people who yearn for the halcyon days of long-distance transportation.”

Leonard wrote that Anderson started to lose his cool when asked if he was trying to kill Amtrak’s long-distance routes as many of his detractors have contended.

No, he answers, Amtrak will continue to operate those routes as Congress has directed and will spend $75 million next year refurbishing passenger cars assigned to long-distance service and spend another $40 million on new locomotives.

But Anderson also reiterated a point he’s made numerous times. He wants to break up some long-distance routes into shorter corridors and transform other long distance trains – he specifically mentioned the Empire Builder and California Zephyr – into experiential trains.

Anderson said he planned to ask Congress next year to authorize an “experiment” of breaking up some long-distance routes, citing the tri-weekly Sunset Limited as one Amtrak would like to address.

He knows that won’t play well with many. “Part of the problem is that the people that are the big supporters of long distance are all emotional about it,” Anderson said. “This is not an emotionally based decision. They should be reading our financials.”

Anderson can be confrontational and doesn’t mind, as the Bloomberg piece noted, throwing an elbow or two against a critic or competitor.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing because at his level the competition can be cutthroat as companies and organizations look to further their own interests.

The article noted that in an effort to confront the host freight railroads that handle Amtrak trains in most of the country Amtrak instituted quarterly report cards that grade how well they dispatch Amtrak trains on time.

Confrontation may be a useful tactic but it also has a price.

Knox Ross, a member of the Southern Rail Commission, discussed that with reporter Leonard as they rode a two-hour tardy Crescent through Mississippi toward New Orleans.

Ross said he has talked with managers at Amtrak’s host railroads who hate those report cards.

Those host railroads may not be so keen about cooperating with Amtrak to implement Anderson’s vision of corridor service between urban centers that airlines no longer serve.

The SRC has been pushing for the creation of a corridor service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.

Federal funding has been approved and the states of Mississippi and Louisiana have agreed to contribute their share of the funding. But Alabama thus far has balked.

And, Ross, said, CSX, which would host the trains, doesn’t want them.

No date has yet been announced for when the New Orleans-Mobile route will begin and Ross sees the obstacles to getting that corridor up and running as a preview of what Anderson and Amtrak will face if the passenger carrier seeks to create the type of corridor services it has talked about creating.

In the meantime, Anderson continues to look for ways to cut costs as he works toward his goal of making Amtrak reach the break-even point on its balance sheet from an operational standpoint as early as next year.

Then Amtrak can take the money it now spends underwriting operating losses and use it to buy new equipment and rebuild infrastructure.

If you want to read Leonard’s piece, you can find it here: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2019-11-20/amtrak-ceo-has-no-love-lost-for-dining-cars-long-haul-routes

But be forewarned that he has bought into the conventional wisdom of how the Northeast Corridor is profitable and the long-distance routes and state-funded corridors are not.

The piece is also heavy on the nostalgia angle, particularly in regards to the recent changes in onboard dining services and the historic role of passenger trains in America.

Yet if you can adopt even a little bit of Anderson’s “just the facts mam” personality, you will see where he’s coming from and have a better understanding as to why he has been doing what he’s done.

Beware of the Rabbits

November 16, 2019

The Rail Passengers Association appears to have launched a public relations initiative to boost its image.

The rail passenger advocacy organization has filled my email inbox this week with daily messages filled with “facts” about its activities.

Last week the chairman of RPA, Peter J. LeCody, took the campaign to a railfan chat list, Trainorders.com.

In his initial post, which was titled, “Why you may be wrong about Rail Passengers Association,” LeCody said he joined the chat list in an effort to “help counter misinformation” about RPA.

He said he acted after some TO members contacted him about what they viewed as “misinformation and comments they considered to be bordering on malicious in many posts.”

LeCody said he wanted to begin a conversation to provide factual information, answer questions and “explain what a member organization can and can’t do and what it can reasonably be expected to do.”

The post had scarcely gone up before the rabbits began coming out of the bushes.

Rabbits are attention grabbing because of the way they dart to and fro. They may be interesting to watch but difficult to catch.

And they are incidental. They distract you from focusing on the important things.

Collegiate basketball coach Bob Knight would tell his players before a game that if they fight the rabbits the elephants are going to kill them.

One of the rabbits was a criticism of RPA for publishing last summer a series of postings on its website written by a summer intern who traveled the country on Amtrak and wrote about food. The intern has training in the culinary arts.

RPA has been sending interns out by rail in recent years and their reports are more entertainment than policy analysis even if RPA sees them as supporting its overall mission of promoting travel by rail.

Does it matter much in the scheme of things that RPA is posting travelogues? No, it doesn’t.

Another rabbit was a criticism of LeCody’s use of the term “third world” to describe Amtrak equipment.

There is a vast difference traveling on equipment that is wearing out, which pertains to Amtrak’s long distance trains, and the type of travel experience described in the Crosby, Stills and Nash song Marrakesh Express with references to animals riding trains with people.

Besides, one poster noted, some so-called third world countries offer better rail service than what Amtrak fields in some parts of the United States.

LeCody should pay heed to that criticism and be more careful in choosing his words.

So, sometimes rabbits can be useful so long you avoid chasing them.

LeCody had a lot to say in his post – maybe too much – but he never explained what exactly that people believe about RPA that is wrong.

RPA, which used to be known as the National Association of Railroad Passengers, has long been a target of criticism.

It’s one of the largest if not the largest grass roots organization devoted to promoting rail service. Being a target comes with the territory and sometimes that’s not fair.

Some of the criticism RPA endures is rooted in disagreements over strategies and tactics.

There are some who want RPA to take a more confrontational approach with Amtrak generally and its CEO Richard Anderson specifically.

If LeCody will use his TO membership to explain why RPA behaves as it does, he might be able to achieve something of value for his organization.

He may not change as many minds as he might wish, but he might be able to achieve a greater degree of understanding about why RPA behave as it does. With that might come more respect.

There is a difference between criticism and attacks that are mere irritants versus those that represent a threat to the well-being of your organization.

Having read the passenger board of Trainorder.com over the past several years I’m familiar with the free-for-all nature of the forum.

Sometimes you’ll find insightful observations or a good conversation; but not always.

I also wonder what RPA has to gain by creating a conversation on a railfan chat list.

The policy makers RPA is trying to influence probably don’t read railfan chat lists let alone take them seriously. If those policy makers are making borderline malicious attacks on RPA, that is a cause for concern.

But why worry about people who don’t have a vote on appropriations and legislation, don’t make transportation policy and don’t have the ear of those who do? Are your critics on TO likely to write to policy makers on your behalf?

RPA might be able to recruit a few people to its cause but just because people are interested in passenger trains doesn’t mean they are interested in devoting much, if any, of their time to advocacy activities.

LeCody would also do well to reconsider his communication strategies if he decides to continue posting on railfan chat lists.

All of what he said he wanted to achieve sounded good until he wrote that he would “not put up with anyone who can only whine about passenger rail issues without offering to pitch in and actually do something to help our association improve the rail travel experience for members and the public.”

He later wrote, “I enjoy constructive criticism. I won’t put up with ‘glass totally empty’ people who have nothing of value to add to a conversation.”

I grimaced when I read those words. Having an edge is not necessarily the best way to win over your doubters and critics.

I don’t fault RPA or any organization for wanting to improve its image with key constituents.

Yet it is not clear what about RPA’s image the organization believes needs improving. I have a hunch about what that might be, but that is for another column.

In the meantime watch out for the rabbits.

RPA Continues to Press Amtrak About Food Service

August 31, 2019

The Rail Passengers Association continues to press Amtrak to improve its dining service on eastern long-distance trains by laying out this week its list of changes it wants to see implemented.

RPA has been expressing concern about Amtrak’s apparent plans to expand its contemporary dining service program to all long-distance trains in October although it hasn’t formally announced those changes.

Contemporary dining was introduced in June 2018 aboard the Lake Shore Limited (Chicago-New York/Boston) and the Capitol Limited (Chicago-Washington).

Both trains lost their full-service dining cars in favor of a limited menu of offerings prepared off the train.

RPA said it has raised with Amtrak management several issues involving contemporary dining but thus far the carrier has only addressed one of them by adding a hot dining option.

“Since last year, we’ve been meeting informally with Amtrak leaders and executives to try to work out something better,” RPA wrote this week on its blog. “It appears Amtrak is simply barreling ahead with an offering that remains flawed and potentially threatens the attractiveness of the trains without substantively addressing the shortcomings we identified.”

Among the suggestions that RPA has made are more hot meal choices; more consideration for dietary needs such as kosher requirements, vegetarian, low-sodium/healthy, and common allergies; better presentation, which would eliminate the dinner-in-a-box concept; better provisioning so that diners should not run out of food in the first few hours of an overnight journey; and allowing coach passengers to buy meals in the diner.

Amtrak has suggested to RPA that new equipment is coming that would make it easier to address these concerns.

This includes new convection ovens in place of microwave ovens that will mean that more food could be cooked simultaneously and would have a better taste.

The carrier has also told the rail advocacy group that a new food-service vendor competition was supposed to improve the food choices while helping Amtrak meet its legal mandate to break-even on food and beverage.

RPA acknowledged that Amtrak is correct in saying that many passengers, particularly those who are new to Amtrak and are younger in age, want lighter fare and the ability to eat during other than fixed mealtimes.

Some have told RPA that they believe the food being offered by the contemporary dining program tastes better than what it replaced.

That led RPA to comment on its blog that it is unlikely that there will be wide agreement on individual food items because food is too personal.

“But we can agree that tossing largely cold, processed food wrapped in plastic into a box and handing it over in a plastic bag is not exactly a welcoming message to passengers,” RPA wrote. “Nor is the lack of place settings at dining-car tables, which is designed — subtly, of course — to discourage passengers from staying in the dining car with their boxed lunch.”

RPA said it has formally asked Amtrak to answer a number of specific questions about the planning food service changes that are in the works for implementation on Oct. 1.

The group wants to know if any aspects of the planned changes are open to refinement before they are launched in October.

It also asked about plans to address shortfalls in items aboard the trains, options for passengers with special diet needs, and the status of food-service equipment upgrades that are supposed to improve the taste and appearance of dining-car food.

Looking ahead, RPA has asked Amtrak about any changes that may be in the works for dining services aboard western long-distance trains.

Planned Dining Service Changes on Auto Train May be Predictor of Future of Amtrak’s Long-Distance Trains

July 22, 2019

The recent announcement by Amtrak of changes to on-board service aboard the Auto Train might be a blueprint for the “experiential” long-distance service that Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson has alluded to in public comments.

However, the upgrades that the carrier is making for sleeping car passengers on the Auto Train stand somewhat in stark contrast with what is happening with onboard service on other eastern long-distance trains.

In a news release, Amtrak said that starting in January Auto Train sleeping car passengers will receive complimentary wine with dinner as well as better linens and towels.

The release spoke of new dinner and breakfast menus, but it is not clear if that will involve food freshly prepared onboard or prepared off the train by a catering company.

The Auto Train announcement came about the same time that news broke that Amtrak plans to extend its “contemporary dining” program to its other eastern long-distance trains.

That program began aboard the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited in June 2018 and involves serving sleeping car passengers box meals in their rooms or in the dining car.

When “contemporary dining” began, Amtrak sought to sell it as an improvement in the sense that passengers received a complimentary alcoholic beverage with their meals, would be able to eat when they wanted, and would have exclusive use of the dining car throughout their trip.

Initially, all of the sleeper class food aboard the Capitol and Lake Shore was served cold, but after a couple months one hot offering was added at dinner and breakfast.

The Auto Train announcement also referenced expanding sleeping car capacity during peak travel periods, but no such move was made for the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.

Nor did Amtrak upgrade the linens and towels available for use by sleeping car passengers on those trains. Aside: those improved linens and towels may not be all that much. Amtrak is not about to become a high-end hotel.

Coach passengers aboard the Auto Train will be losing their complimentary dinner. Instead, Amtrak said it will expand the café car menu of meals, snacks and beverages. It also said it will have food truck vendors at the stations in Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida, that coach passengers can patronize.

That sounds like a 21st century version of the 19th century practice of passenger trains making meal stops at designated points.

Auto train coach passengers will receive a complimentary continental breakfast. That is more than coach passengers get on any other long-distance train.

Commenting on the Auto Train changes, the Rail Passengers Association noted that these changes are in line with the desire of Amtrak management to more clearly delineate travel classes. It also might be a scheme to delineate types of trains.

The Auto Train is unique among long-distance trains in not having intermediate stations. The clientele of the Auto Train is different in many ways from that of other long-distance trains and the more well-heeled among them might be the target audience Amtrak is seeking with the experiential trains.

I’ve long thought that Anderson might have in mind duplicating the Rocky Mountaineer or even VIA Rail Canada’s Canadian, both of which attract a lot of affluent tour group travelers with disposable income to spend on experiences.

The Washington-Florida travel market has long been a strong one and is the only Amtrak long-distance market to have double daily service between endpoints even if those trains take different routes within North Carolina and South Carolina.

The implementation of “contemporary dining” on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited last year also represented a delineation between sleeper class and coach class in the sense that the latter are now limited to café car fare or bringing their own food with them aboard the train. But no food trucks.

In an analysis posted on its website last week, the RPA said Amtrak has hinted that the contemporary dining to be imposed on the Crescent and Silver Meteor, the only remaining eastern long-distance trains with full-service dining cars, will be different from that now available on the Capitol and Lake Shore. But RPA said it is not clear how or why it will be different.

“Meanwhile, problems with availability, choice and dietary restrictions have soured the perceptions of many repeat riders,” RPA wrote.

The rail passenger advocacy group acknowledged that Amtrak is trying to balance modern tastes and sensibilities within a long-distance ridership audience that includes large percentages of patrons who do not share those tastes and sensibilities.

RPA pointed out that one of its members wrote to say about “contemporary dining,” that “The food honestly is both better, tastier and more in line with how I eat when I am dieting like now and how my kids eat. Plus I like the dedicated lounge space in between meals.”

The latter comment reflects a facet of train travel that doesn’t get much attention.

If you are going to shell out the big bucks Amtrak demands for sleeper class, you want more than your own room and bed at night.

Amtrak argues that its surveys have found many passengers want less heavy meals and want to be able to eat when they choose rather that during fixed mealtimes.

Many passengers also don’t care for the community seating that has long been associated with eating in a railroad dining car. These passengers would rather not dine in the company of strangers.

Of course, RPA said, some passengers have found the food of “contemporary dining” to be terrible and even those who like the food have been put off by how it is presented.

That probably is an allusion to it coming in cardboard boxes and plastic containers, something that is being done because it is less costly and easier to manage.

In its analysis, the RPA said there are too few choices available with current “contemporary dining” fare, particularly with hot meal options.

“Members also tell us that kosher options are a problem, as are options for those with food allergies or sensitivities like gluten intolerance,” RPA wrote, “We’ve also heard from many of our members about entrees running out very early in the dining service.”

At the time that “contemporary dining” was launched, Amtrak said it would eventually allow coach passengers to purchase the meals made available to sleeper class passengers, but thus far that has not occurred.

Amtrak has said it is seeking to satisfy a Congressional mandate to cut its food and beverage deficit so the changes being made to the Auto Train and other eastern long-distance trains are being imposed with that in mind.

That means reducing the number of onboard employees involved in food and beverage service as well as trying to cut the cost of food and beverage acquisition.

The food trucks for coach passengers concept fits well into this framework because it shifts the risk onto an entrepreneur who probably is paying Amtrak a fee for the privilege of selling food trackside.

I wonder, by the way, what will happen when Amtrak begins getting complaints about food odors lingering in the air long after the food has been consumed.

Much of how Amtrak is framing these changes is akin to Michael Jackson’s fabled moonwalk in which he moves backwards while giving the illusion of moving forward.

Many railfans dislike “contemporary dining” but they are not necessarily representative of those who buy sleeper class tickets.

The sleeping customers are not necessarily looking for gourmet dining on wheels or trying to recreate the experience of traveling on the Broadway Limited, Super Chief, Twentieth Century Limited or the Capitol Limited during their heyday before Amtrak came along.

They want a good meal and friendly service that makes them feel that the hefty accommodation charge they paid was worth it.

Serving sleeper class passengers a complimentary alcoholic beverage and giving them exclusive use of a dining car turned lounge is fine, but can be negated by offering meals that too much resemble a school field trip box lunch.

RPA is correct in saying presentation is a problem here, but to get restaurant style presentation is labor intensive and reducing labor costs is one of Amtrak’s objectives.

Whatever shortcomings that “contemporary dining” may have, it could be worse.

Amtrak could borrow Southern Pacific’s playbook of providing food and beverage service from vending machines. Maybe it’s just a matter of time.

Senate Committee To Consider Amtrak Board Pick

July 21, 2019

A July 24 hearing has been set by the Senate Committee on Commerce to consider a nominee for a position on the Amtrak board of directors.

The Trump administration has nominated former Indiana Congress Todd Rokita to the board, a move that drew opposition from some rail passenger advocates due to his support of amendments would have ended funding for some Amtrak service had those amendments been adopted.

Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews said his group opposes the Rokita nomination although he said the former congressman is likely to say the right things during his hearing.

The nomination of Rokita was announced last May.

Amtrak Wants Passengers to Agree to Arbitration

June 24, 2019

Amtrak has joined a growing movement of forcing dissatisfied customers to go to arbitration to resolve dispute.

However, the Rail Passengers Association said the policy leaves a lot of unanswered questions, including for group travel because there is no legal authority to accept arbitration terms on behalf of individual travelers.

On it website, RPA said Amtrak’s consumer-arbitration provisions are drawing attention, but the current political climate had made it nearly impossible to fight back.

RPA said arbitration has become the de facto standard throughout the U.S. economy and the courts, Congress and executive branch have all shown little willingness to change it.

Companies typically require customers to sign an agreement when purchasing a produce or service to take disputes before an American Arbitration Association arbitrator rather than going to court.

In a statement posted on its website earlier this year, Amtrak contended that arbitration is more efficient than drawn out legal proceedings and less costly. The statement also contended that passengers could contact Amtrak directly to work out claims rather than go to arbitration.

Consumer advocacy groups argue that forcing customers into binding arbitration agreements effectively means they are signing away their right to civil remedies in court.

They say that the results of arbitration are often worse for consumers than civil court proceedings.

RPA said passengers have few options to avoid arbitration. They could refuse to buy tickets under those terms but that would mean not being able to travel.

They could also file suit in a federal court and argue that their claim or dispute is barred from arbitration by federal law.

6 Senators Awarded RPA Golden Spike Award

April 3, 2019

Six U.S. senators have received the Golden Spike Award from the Rail Passengers Association for their work to save Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.

RPA said the award was shared by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colorado), Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico), Jerry Moran (R-Kansas.), Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) and Tom Udall (D-New Mexico.

In a news release, RPA said the six were lauded “for the crucial role they played in saving the Southwest Chief train, and for their service to the tens of millions of Americans who depend on a national train network.”

Specifically, they opposed Amtrak’s proposal to replace the train with a bus bridge between Dodge City, Kansas, and Albuquerque.

They were able to get approved in the federal fiscal year 2019 budget a set-aside for preservation work on the route of the Chief.

Amtrak also later reversed an earlier decision to withhold matching funding for a construction grant that will bring an additional $26 million in track rebuilding.

Study Finds Economic Benefit of Chicago-St. Paul Train

March 4, 2019

The Railroad Passengers Association issued a research note last week that argues that a second daily train between Chicago and the Twin Cities would generate a $47 million annual economic benefit in Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Of that, $25 million would benefit Minnesota. The train would divert 90,000 people from car travel to rail travel.

RPA said the economic benefits to Minnesota would be eight- to 10-times Minnesota’s annual net spending to support the potential new service, which is an estimated $2 to $3 million.

The association said its work was a follow-up to a study conducted by Amtrak in 2015.

It noted that the Amtrak study was confined to assessing the feasibility of adding a second train in addition to current Empire Builder.

RPA said its study looked at the total economic benefits of running a second train.

The RPA research note can be viewed at: www.railpassengers.org/site/assets/files/8142/rpa_research_note-_new_train_to_mn.pdf

 

Amtrak Eyeing Major Revamp of Its Route Network

February 22, 2019

The big news concerning Amtrak this week was a report in the Wall Street Journal that Amtrak plans to revamp its route network to emphasize new corridors, primarily in the South and West.

The Journal quoted an unnamed Amtrak official as saying: “We are undertaking a major rethinking of the national network and how we offer service on the national network. That study and planning isn’t done yet, and we aren’t prepared to announce any plans or recommendations yet—those will come in our reauthorization proposal.”

The newspaper report said the route restructuring is being prompted in part by a need to replace or retire the aging Superliner fleet devoted to most long-distance trains.

Another factor is that Amtrak must be reauthorized by Congress later this year.

Amtrak officials have been hinting for at least a year at a change in the carrier’s business focus.

During a speech in California, Amtrak President Richard Anderson described the long-distance trains as experiential.

Anthony Coscia, the chairman of the Amtrak board of directors, told the Rail Passengers Association in a meeting last May that in the long term the overall shape of Amtrak’s national network is likely due to population shifts, demographic trends and economic growth.

Coscia expressed Amtrak’s desire to develop corridor routes with strong potential for growth in unserved or lightly served areas.

Writing on the Trains magazine website, columnist Fred Frailey said the implication of the report by the Wall Street Journal is that Amtrak wants to operate daylight service between large city pairs.

Frailey quoted at length the remarks of Amtrak’s Stephen Gardner, a senior executive vice president, at the Rail Trends meeting in New York City last November.

“We’re looking at a different America. They do not live half in the city and half in the country,” Gardner said. “Now the vast majority live in major metropolitan areas. And those metro areas are shifting. The Northeast will be a net loser.

“Where growth is happening is in the South, Mountain West and West. And guess who lives in those metro areas? It’s Millennials, by far.”

Gardner went on to say that this has resulted in a mismatch between population density, transportation demand and Amtrak’s current network.

Frailey speculated that what ultimately may occur is that some of Amtrak’s long-distance routes will be split into segments operating during the daytime.

He cited the example of the Chicago-New Orleans route, which might be broken into Chicago-Memphis and New Orleans-Memphis segments.

New Congress, Old Priorities for Rail Industry

February 12, 2019

It may be a new Congress, but the railroad industry is continuing to push old priorities in Washington.

An analysis by Progressive Railroading magazine said among the priorities are a permanent extension of the 45G short-line tax credit, keeping existing truck size and weight restrictions, and approval of an infrastructure package that includes funding priority for freight and passenger rail.

How much the industry is able to get done is an open question given that the House is controlled by Democrats and the Senate by Republicans.

Some railroad industry lobbyists say an environment of hyper partisanship combined with hard feelings lingering from the recent 35-day federal government shutdown will make it a challenge to create agreement on transportation policy.

Yet some are optimistic that an infrastructure plan might be a rare example of bi-partisan agreement, in part by trying to portray it as good for urban and rural communities.

The Rail Passengers Association is seeking to prod Congress into address the on-time woes of Amtrak trains by creating a a charter for a Shared-Use Corridor Advisory Committee to develop new “mutually satisfactory solutions” on Amtrak’s shared use of rail routes with its host railroads.

The committee would be similar to the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee and use a collaborative approach to find mutually agreeable solutions to safety regulatory issues.

Although most of industry’s legislative priorities have been around awhile, some new matters the industry is overseeing include discussing the potential regulation of precision scheduled railroading and automation.

“A huge amount of education is needed,” said Chuck Baker, the new president of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association.

“A lot of these new members are interested in infrastructure, so we think we’ll have a friendly playing field,” he said.

The Association of American Railroads expects the trucking industry to again seek to get Congress to increase the weight and size limit of trucks.

AAR is calling for what it termed “reasonable” limits on truck size on interstate highways of 80,000 pounds in weight and no more than two 28-foot trailers in total length.

The trucking industry has been seeking to increase these limits through the use of pilot programs to test larger trucks.

The rail industry fears that these programs could lead to higher limits being made permanent at the national level.

An infrastructure program, though, lies at the top of legislative priorities.

Railroad interests are hoping for an infrastructure package coupled with reauthorization of the

Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act of 2015, which is set to expire in September 2020.

The reauthorization is expected to include funding for Amtrak and the Gateway/Hudson River tunnel projects in New York.

Lawmakers are also expected to debate funding of the Highway Trust Fund and its Mass Transit Account with those discussions focused in part on whether to increase the federal tax on gasoline that motorists pay at the pump.

Other funding alternatives for the HTF that are expected to be discussed include a general sales tax, a vehicle miles traveled fee and a per-barrel tax on crude oil.

Jim Mathews, president of RPA, said his group wants Congress to look at a variety of funding options, including a passenger-rail trust fund. “We think it’s about time that we had a predictable, dedicated source of funding for passenger rail,” he said.